District Accepted into National Network of Innovative Schools
The Fox Chapel Area School District is consistently ranked among the best in the nation, and this fall, received yet another honor to validate that reputation. The district was one of 19 new school districts from across the country accepted into Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of forward-thinking school districts, based on Fox Chapel Area’s innovative programs and commitment to collaboration. Specifically, the district was recognized for its comprehensive K-12 computer science curriculum which includes coding, programming, and digital badging at the elementary level; its infusion of maker-education and project-based learning; and the various educational technology and research partnerships it has developed with institutions of higher learning and local entrepreneurs.
Megan Cicconi, Fox Chapel Area’s Director of Instructional and Innovative Leadership, attributes the honor to the district’s teachers. “Simply put, our teachers are willing to evaluate students’ needs and take the necessary steps to ensure student growth. In this day and age, that means creating innovative opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery and work in authentic roles,” she said. “We are thrilled to be recognized for their dedication and for our administration’s visionary leadership.”
District staff members have developed a new and redesigned computer science curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels that includes coding, programming, and robotics beginning in kindergarten. Additionally, a Fab Lab was designed and built by students at the high school. Plans are also underway to create a stationary makerspace adjacent to the school library at Dorseyville Middle School, as well as mobile makercarts.
According to Mrs. Cicconi, “The district is also a local leader in innovation. We train other teachers in the region and we put forth opportunities so that they can learn from us.” For example, Fox Chapel Area hosted EdcampPGH in November in which 170 educators came together to experience how they can use technology to enhance deeper learning in the classroom. In addition to other Edcamp activities, teachers, alongside current Fox Chapel Area High School students, demonstrated a variety of robotics programming in a “digital playground” set up in the high school Fab Lab.
Launched in late 2011, the League of Innovative Schools connects and rallies the most dynamic leaders of the nation’s school districts in order to advance positive change in public education. The League now includes 87 school districts in 33 states representing 3.3 million students. As a member school district, Superintendent Gene Freeman, Ed.D., will attend League meetings and join working groups on a broad range of topics relevant to the changing needs of school districts. Additionally, members engage with entrepreneurs and support research that expands teaching and learning. Dr. Freeman and Assistant Superintendent David McCommons, Ed.D., attended their first League meeting in November held in Baltimore that was sponsored by Digital Promise and the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools. There they joined approximately 200 national school leaders, education experts, and entrepreneurs visiting schools and participating in workshops with the goal of addressing shared priorities and setting goals.
“It is an honor to be able to work with dynamic leaders of some of the top schools in the nation in order to improve and enhance public education,” Dr. Freeman said. “Being a part of this network will enable us to broaden our knowledge far beyond the borders of Western Pennsylvania. We will bring back innovative programming that improves student learning across the board, and we plan to share that knowledge with other school leaders as well.”
In addition to Fox Chapel Area, four other local school districts are also League members and Dr. Freeman is quick to point out that there is a culture of innovation in Pittsburgh. “The Pittsburgh region is the only region nationally to have such a high induction rate into Digital Promise’s prestigious League of Innovative Schools. Our school district is grateful to the Remake Learning Network and our local foundations for their dedication to creating a culture of innovation in our city,” Dr. Freeman stated. “We look forward to sharing our expertise and gaining valuable insight from other national leaders.”